“Visiting the Cemetery”

The seat lets out a hiss as I sink onto the hot, hot vinyl. I carefully buckle myself in.
Unable to see over the dashboard, I peer into the nooks- where the radio should be, the circles
made for cups, and on the car door where most people keep maps or windshield scrapers: all
filled with twigs, bark, and cobalt blue sea glass spilling into the car; forest debris crunches
under my light-up sneakers. This is just one of Meme’s collections, one of the more socially
acceptable manifestations of her mental illness.

With the air conditioning on high the car reeks of the ranch dressing she accidentally spilled
into the air vents one time. I am already exhausted anticipating the litany of complaints she
will have today. She doesn’t waste any time, saying “Sar, You’re just going
to have to be patient today- I was barely able to get out of bed this morning- there’s
a cold front coming through and it’s wreaking havoc on my arthritis.”

There is always a cold front coming through.

I tilt away from her just a little bit, not enough for her to notice. Seeing her tight, gnarled
hands struggling to grip the steering wheel, I open and close my small fists to make sure I’m
still ok- as if mental illness, age, or arthritis were catching.

I thwap my heel against the side of the car- thwap thwap thwap and the red lights flash to
the rhythm of my clenching fists as she drives. The pace of thwaping increases as I realize
the way- Friendly’s is a loaded restaurant. Our standby is McDonalds, sometimes Beals
for a 97 cent cone (I get to keep the spare six cents for my snap change purse). Friendly’s,
home to the liquid peanutbutter that makes smacking noises in the absence of chatter, is where
we go after visits to the gravesite. Friendly’s is a graveyard of cherry stems and crumpled
paper straw covers.

In alarm I finally turn to her- “Are we going to visit the cemetery?” Joe would
have been my uncle. Emily was (is? I talk to her sometimes, but I haven’t reconciled
our conversations with the imagined box of ash six feet below) my sister. In a year or two,
I will have retired my light up sneakers to their final resting place in the back of my closet.
I will be barefoot when I sit down in our living room and page through family photo albums.
On the bottom shelf, slipped between albums, I will find a book: Dealing with the Loss of a
Child, and I will realize that Emily was my mother’s daughter, meme’s granddaughter,
that Joe was meme’s son. I will prop my body against her hip and hug her waist at the
gravesite after that. But in my light up sneakers Emily and Joe are my loss and mine alone.

“No, we’re not visiting the cemetery. we’re going to Friendly’s.”

I finish my three-scoop hunka-chunka-peanut-butter-fudge icecream doused in hot fudge and
peanut butter sauce in record time. I focus on counting the seams sewn into the red booths
to keep my breathing even while Meme pays the bill- trying not to upset the precarious balance
as peanut butter stomach acid threatens to make a reappearance. Where are we going next? What
graveyard or cemetery or fenced in place of granite, ash, worms, and premature death are we
visiting?

Meme steers her tan, ranch scented Honda into the driveway of my house.